My wife and I used to love to listen to Garrison Keillor’s, A “Prairie Home Companion” on PBS Radio, before he retired. During one of his shows, he told the story of a group of children in a Unitarian Sunday school class who were drawing pictures. One girl said, "I'm going to draw a picture of God." The teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like."They will when I get done with my picture.”
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I’m sure that’s probably not what Philip had in mind when he asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” but he most definitely wanted to see God. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God. On the contrary, he had a deep desire to experience God for himself. He believed that if he and the other disciples could only experience God through one of their senses, they would be satisfied. I believe he wanted them to have their own burning bush moment like Moses had experienced when he first met God. If he only knew his moment was coming during Pentecost, as we heard in today’s reading from Acts.
I believe Philip was just a very impatient guy, just the way we are sometimes. (Well, some of us like me, are more so than others.) We want it all, and we want it now. Philip, just like many of us, needed to trust in God’s everlasting wisdom and timing. Fortunately, Jesus, just like the way he is with us, was merciful and told Philip, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Philip did not understand that anyone that knows Jesus, has seen the Father. In other words, no material image or likeness can adequately depict God. Only a person can give knowledge of him, since personality cannot be represented by an inanimate image like a picture, a sculpture, or a video.
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Furthermore, Jesus was the essence, the character, and the reality of God known to humanity through his words, as well as through his actions. The truth of God filled Jesus’ words, and the power of God produced his works. Yes, as people say, God is love.
Then, Jesus goes on to remind Philip, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” This was a prelude to the “Great Commission,” as well as to the power of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus would send after his ascension. After all, there were more converts after the initial sermon of Peter at Pentecost than are recorded for Jesus during this entire life on earth. (120 in Acts 1:15; 3,000 in 2:41)
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Next, Jesus emphatically declares that whatever they should ask in his name, he would do. Of course, he didn’t mean he was a genie, like the one in Aladdin’s lamp. He would grant only such petitions as could be presented in a manner consistent with his character and his plan for us. It is not about gratifying our whimsy. As Lynn Partee, our chapel leader when I was Head of School at St. James used to tell our students, our Father’s answer to our prayers is either yes, no, or maybe later.
Finally, Jesus tells Philip about his own Moses moment to come, when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
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So what does all this have to do with us? Well, as John the Baptist predicted, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit, hence, the importance of our own baptisms. The Holy Spirit’s function is to represent God to the believer as Jesus did in his incarnate state. This indwelling of the Spirit is the specific privilege of Christian believers. Therefore, just like the disciples, we can all see God through the words and actions of those who are obedient to his great commandment to “love God above all… and love your neighbor as yourself.” I know I’ve seen God in you, like many of us did through our deceased Sister Edrie and the blessed prayer shawls she knitted.
Do we need to be cautious? We most certainly do, for I believe there are many false prophets out there these days. If you don’t believe me, just think about Archbishop Michael Curry’s infamous words, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God!” Therefore, in closing, “let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit!”